EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
The City of Marinette’s aging plow trucks prompt the big-ticket items on the 2020 Capital Outlay budget. Some of the trucks date as far back as 1996.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

The City of Marinette’s aging plow trucks prompt the big-ticket items on the 2020 Capital Outlay budget. Some of the trucks date as far back as 1996.

MARINETTE — For the individual, it might feel like a flaccidly fiscal and monotonous task — a lifeless avalanche of tedious numbers and dollar sign accountability. 

However, at the level of city government, it may just represent one of the biggest unacknowledged stories of the year for the simple fact that its annual outcome intertwines almost every other story that unfolds in the City of Marinette, such as the one where heavy snowfall impedes your transit to work. 

It is the city’s Fiscal Year budget, and Monday night the Finance and Insurance Committee approved the preliminary 2020 version, which readers can review in today’s EagleHerald on the Community page (A6). Additionally, residents can see a copy of the budget at City Hall until Nov. 21 when a public hearing will collect feedback prior to council’s final approval. 

Last week, a small part of the budget planning process unfolded at City Hall when the committee listened to leadership from each department – including the department of public works – convey their lists of capital outlay priorities for the next year. Capital outlay (fund 401 on the budget), represents just one piece of the extensive fiscal plan. It consists of singular or larger investments that acquire, enhance or maintain equipment as in the purchase of a new squad car for the police department or a new roof at the Red Arrow bath house. Or a new plow truck to clear the streets.    

“It’s not an easy process because every department has needs and there is only so much funding available to meet those needs,” said Mayor Steve Genisot. “So it comes down to a decision by committee to try and prioritize.”

One of those priorities begins next year. Marinette residents hitting the roads in the middle of winter, as well as the City of Marinette Department of Public Works (DPW), can rest a little easier thanks to budgetary capital outlay planning. A new plow truck will hit the roads, accompanying the current fleet of eight snow-clearing vehicles already maintained and operated by the DPW.

“In recent years we’ve been getting hit harder and harder by the snow,” said Superintendent of Public Works Patrick Carlson. “It puts a toll on the plow trucks … and realistically you should be rotating these vehicles every 10 or 15 years.”  

According the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the 2019-20 winter promises to herald several strong storms and “piles of snow,” while the National Weather Service tempers that prediction by forecasting a small chance of above-average snow. Regardless, the prospects of a new plow truck should arrive with some sense of relief for DPW employees. 

The DPW has operated few of the trucks for more than 20 years. Carlson explained that the department spent abundant man hours and in maintenance of those vehicles. Two of the trucks date back to 1996 and the servicing and rebuilding of various components to keep them in operation chews through a lot of department funds and energy. In addition to the 1996 vehicles, the department also owns another six plow trucks ranging from 2001 to 2017. For Carlson, the more aged vehicles represent an uneasy reliability.   

“Our fleet is definitely aging … and we are operating equipment that we must constantly sink thousands and thousands of dollars into,” he said. “In order for us to move forward and keep up with (winter) demands, we are going to need to start replacing the fleet.”

In fact, Carlson reported at the Oct. 29 capital outlay meeting that one of the trucks was currently under repairs. As far as capital outlay needs go, a new plow truck stood among the top dollar necessities at an estimated cost of more than $180,000 but it also embodied one of highest priorities leading into winter. After all the calculations and dollar allocations to various city departments, committee members and city officials walked away satisfied.

“The big ticket item was the snow plow,” said Council President Dorothy Kowalski. “But I am very comfortable with the budget. I think we took care of the items we needed.” 

Without proper planning, the annual budget also carries the potential to bite into the wallets of Marinette residents. Fees, revenue and the tax base allow the city to fund many projects, expenditures and operational costs. However, under restraints imposed by state legislation, a city cannot raise taxes endlessly. So ironing out a budget with a city’s limited resources requires meticulous planning. 

“Every year we try to keep the operating budget, including capital, in line,” Genisot said. “And that is part of the budget process, determining how much can be allocated without, hopefully, raising taxes.”